Recently got a really wonderful Library of America edition of four Philip K Dick novels which included 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.' In rereading it, I realized that the novel is in some ways a meditation on empathy. For whom one should feel it and why, and how technology plays into human nature in this arena.
In the book, there is a religion called Mercerism. You hold onto handles on a black box and are suddenly climbing a hill as an old man, who is being attacked with rocks as he struggles to make it to the top. You can feel everyone else who is also holding the box at that moment, and thus you share the struggle and feel somehow less alone. It can be dangerous though, as you can actually be wounded by the rocks and step away from the box with cuts and bruises.
There is also an endlessly running TV talk show in the book, hosted by a man(?) named Buster Friendly, who natters along cheerfully with guests who visit over and over again. They make the same old jokes and fulfill the sort of function of late night tv or early morning talk radio. Characters in the novel feel much less lonely with Buster's show running, but also feel annoyed by it.
Finally, there is a machine that allows characters to 'dial up' a mood for themselves. The main character, Deckard the detective, gets into an argument with his wife as to why she has dialed herself a depressed mood, early in the novel.
It struck me that all of these ways that Dick envisioned how machines could intervene in our emotions offer food for thought for game designers. Are we designing ways for people to viscerally share experiences of a shared world through avatars, like Mercerism? Are we providing distracting pseudo-company, like Buster Friendly? Are we giving people a way to modulate their mood for themselves, in both helpful and potentially not so helpful ways?
I'm sure there are other excellent sci fi novels out there that provide inspiration and useful metaphor for thinking about games and empathy... would be great to collect a set of references for the game community.